DNA Microchips: Looking at the Big Picture, for Tiny Clues to Prostate Cancer

Little things matter when it comes to cancer. Very little things — tiny changes to the genes, caused by risk factors in the environment and in a man’s genetic makeup. Some of these are called “epigenetic” changes; they don’t alter the gene’s sequence, but they affect what the gene does — making it ineffective, or silencing it altogether. But because the gene itself is basically unchanged, there is hope that what has been locked or otherwise put out of commission can be unlocked, and the damage undone, says Srinivasan Yegnasubramanian, M.D., Ph.D., the Dr. and Mrs. Peter S. Bing Scholar. He believes that “with the right drug intervention, we may be able to reverse epigenetic alterations.”

Yegnasubramanian’s plan is to tackle these very small changes on a bigger-thanever scale. “Comprehensively identifying the genetic and epigenetic changes in prostate cancer can not only help us find new targets for prostate cancer diagnosis and therapy, but will also improve our understanding of the pathways involved in cancer development and progression,” he says. “However, so far, because of a lack of appropriate technology, these alterations have largely been identified one at a time, through studies that are mostly limited to well-known genes.” Yegnasubramanian has developed innovative methods to harness the latest technological advancements using “DNA microchips.” And with these, he says, “we can identify genetic and epigenetic changes related to prostate cancer across the entire human genome, in well-known and unchartered genes.”

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